Parents win court battle to join school's catchment

A LOCAL authority may be forced to back down over dozens of school catchment requests after a father won a landmark court battle to have his daughter attend a top-performing school.

Robert Bowie lives in a modern house which, according to the map, lies within the area for St Ninian's High School, Giffnock.

However, East Renfrewshire Council refused to give his daughter Blaire, 11, a priority right to go to St Ninian's this summer because it argued the catchment area was based on a list of streets – and the list had been compiled before the family's street was built.

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The judge criticised the local authority's "far-fetched" definition of its catchment area yesterday, raising hope for other families who are at loggerheads with the council over the issue.

Last night, the Bowie family's solicitor, Eric Scott, said a further 64 children in the P1-P7 age bracket were affected.

"This case forms a precedent for them," he said. "The oddity about this case was that, when the local authority split, the catchment area straddled the boundary between East Renfrewshire and Glasgow. The house where my client lives was built since local government reorganisation. He lives in Glasgow, but his daughter is entitled to go to school in East Renfrewshire. They found themselves stateless, and no-one would take them."

Lord Uist ruled at the Court of Session in Edinburgh that the map took priority in determining the meaning of "delineated area" in education regulations.

He said: "It seems to me that ERC (East Renfewshire Council] have sought to give a far-fetched and strained meaning to that term by contending that it denotes a list of streets."

Last night, Mr Bowie, a policeman, said he was relieved to have won the case. He added: "I didn't get legal aid, so I funded it myself. I was going to have to sell my car and remortgage the house if we had lost. This should never have got to court. This was a row between two councils, and we were caught in the middle."

ERC is undertaking a consultation exercise on a proposal to alter St Ninian's catchment area, but the judge decided that the exercise was unlawful because it had proceeded on an incorrect material fact – that Mr Bowie, and others in a similar position, lived outside the area.

The court was told St Ninian's was the best-performing state Roman Catholic secondary school in Scotland. ERC became responsible for the school after local government reorganisation in 1996.

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The judge ruled that Blaire Bowie lived in St Ninian's catchment area and, therefore, had a priority right to attend the school.

An East Renfrewshire Council spokesman said last night: "We have received the judgment and are considering it."